For better or worse, one thing our great nation occasionally lacks is an appreciation for nuance. The bigger, bolder and more sensational something is, the more we seem to love it. From state fairs featuring deep-fried sticks of butter to media-drenched politics, art and entertainment, if it is shocking or awe-inspiring somebody will buy it ... or so the theory goes. And while the majority of beer still sold in the U.S. is far from inspiring — requiring millions in advertising dollars to convince the consumer otherwise — the craft beer segment comes much closer to “bold” and “sensational.”
But, while I obviously applaud the innovations occurring in the domestic and global craft beer movement, the utter saturation of brands and styles has overloaded some consumers with so much variety that in many cases it will have them sticking to “easy decisions” and buying what they know. Overwhelming choice will eventually have large market ramifications (as plenty have been predicting over the past five years). And as smaller breweries attempt more extreme beers, which consumers have less ability or interest in identifying — either through irrelevant names or bombastic approaches to a style — the disconnect will only widen. If certain craft breweries think they can sell enough beer to maintain their niche by appealing to “beard culture,” skateboards, metal music, or whatever else, they had better understand that such market segments will only stay locked down with great beer.
And some of them do produce excellent beer. But all too often new breweries prefer “shark-jumping” with absurd packaging, whacky ingredients and zero reverence or historical appreciation of beer traditions. Combined with these whimsical and sometimes audacious, approaches to beer, blanket saturation may very well cause a consumer backlash that sees informational barriers to market entry as silly and pretentious, just as Budweiser desperately attempted to make the case a couple of Super Bowls ago against craft beer (while simultaneously buying up as many exceptional craft breweries as possible).
For a beer with a knack for subtlety — like most of this Pennsylvania brewery’s expertly designed brews — check out Victory’s fall “Festbier.” Although it is currently a few weeks beyond Germany’s Oktoberfest, Victory Brewing Company’s Marzen is a fall seasonal that presents a smooth, full-bodied, amber lager with a delicate, bready, German malt sweetness, combined with a touch of whole cone German hops for balance. And at 5.6 percent ABV this sessionable go-to makes your purchasing decisions simple ... again and again.
This week’s recommendation: Victory “Festbier,” a German-style Marzen brewed with German malts and hops for smooth, toasted malt, and subtle hops. 5.6 percent ABV. Downington, Pennsylvania.
— Colin Hubbell is co-owner of the Green Onion Pub and The Beer Hub in South Utica. His column appears weekly.